The Ko Olina resort area of western Oahu has long been renown for the wonderful, luxurious, and thoroughly appealing JW Marriott Ihilani Resort. Now, of course, Disney has stepped in and opened the Aulani Resort & Spa right next door (and by right next door, I mean it, the two resort hotels are literally adjacent to one another). I love the Ihilani in the Ko Olina resort area of Oahu. It’s such a relaxing, calm vacation resort, and a far cry from the touristy cosmopolitan hubbub of Waikiki. The positive feelings and memories of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, matched with knowing how Disney never does anything halfway, has left this travel writer worried about the Ihilani’s long-term prospects. How can it compete with the wizardry and fireworks of the Disney property?
By reframing what it means to take a Hawaii vacation in the Ko Olina resort area, apparently. Knowing that the Aulani Resort & Spa will have the families with young children wrapped up, the Ihilani is now playing to what it’s always done best: Appealing to those of us who seek romantic vacations in Oahu, away from the maddening crowds. Because honestly, who among us HASN’T been maddened at least once by the ruckus and chaos that goes hand-in-hand with uber family-friendly resort stays? (If we’re all being honest, I should be hearing crickets.)
If I, a travel consumer, was worried about the Ihilani, it stands to reason that the people involved in its well being would have been thinking about this long before the Aulani was even completed. Brian Soma, the Director of Sales at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, told me “We welcome Disney Aulani to the Ko Olina Resort and are excited with our new neighbors. The Disney brand will help to strengthen the destination recognition of the Ko Olina Resort & Marina and Hawaii.
This is a great experience, with the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa offering hotel only accommodations to a variety of travelers — leisure, business, corporate meetings and incentives. We see our family business redeeming Marriott Reward points to enjoy the JW Marriott Ihilani location and accommodations as well the Aulani Disney dining options. Its a wonderful arrangement which provides more options to both resort guests.”
The new “Ihilani Lanai Dining” experience is part of the overall effort to reframe the Ihilani as a romantic, peaceful alternative to the Disney version of a Hawaii vacation next door. It involves a romantic dinner with island-inspired cuisine, either on the guests’ private lanai or set up on the oceanfront Lagoon Lawn. The Lagoon Lawn option includes a personal server, and a choice of menus with wine pairings. And hey — if you really want that personal servant (can we just say butler, or is that too frou frou?) for the private lanai dining option, you can have it, for an extra cost.
Now, business and leisure travelers know that Hawaii is one of the top destinations where Marriott Rewards members redeem their points for stays at any Marriott Resorts Hawaii, which obviously includes the Ihilani in the luxury tier brand category. In fact, the Hawaiian islands are the #1 redemption destinations for Marriott rewards customers. Working hard all year is made a lot more bearable with the idea of cashing out business travel points during a romantic Hawaii vacation at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina.
Maybe I shouldn’t worry about the Ihilani after all. Disney’s Aulani resort will raise travelers’ awareness of the Ko Olina resort destination. More tourists coming to the western resort area of Oahu can only be good for the resort’s profile, right? Further, there are many types of travel experiences in Hawaii, and nothing beats the South Pacific for tropical romance. Two parents treating their kids to a Disney vacation at the Aulani could well be motivated to spend their next trip to Oahu in a more romantic vein — and for that, it’s hard to beat the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. The Marriott Points redemption is the last (albeit very important) consideration that has resolved my faith in the Ihilani’s future.
Knowing that the hospitality experts there are working creatively to maintain Ihilani’s viability in the market of luxury Hawaii vacations is calming; almost as calming, in fact, as a vacation at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa itself.